GenX Tribe: Breaking Bones and Other Stories of Walking it Off

Read the full Tweetstorm hereand here.

I was seven years old in 1981 when I broke my arm on the school playground. I don’t remember the details of how it happened, but I do remember my parents weren’t concerned enough to take me to the doctor’s office immediately.

Sure, I was in pain. But they wanted to wait a day to see how I felt in the morning. After all, why rush to the doctor if it’s just a bad bruise or a bad ache.

It was a simpler time then.

The pain didn’t go away in the morning, and so off to the doctor we went. Sure enough, I had a slight fracture in my forearm. I needed a cast for six-to-eight weeks, we were told.

But there was a problem. My tee-ball team was playing in the championship that week. (Despite the fact that I played in a league where we didn’t keep score, the parents kept score!) I didn’t want to miss the game—and my dad didn’t want me to miss it either.

“Can we put the cast on so he can play,” my dad asked.

Yes, yes he could. So, I was fitted for a cast above my wrist and below my elbow. I was good to go. I could play. And play I did. I even fractured my middle finger when a ball struck it during the game. (I got a splint the next day.)

* * *

I told this story last night on Twitter during a completely unrelated discussion I’d started about Generation X.

Unexpectedly, my timeline exploded. As of this writing, more than one million of my GenX family have viewed that first tweet and thousands have commented on it. I’ve spent the last day replying, reading, and laughing.

As you’d expect, the threads have revealed some shared histories and stories that I’ve never seen discussed in public. The most fascinating one: stories of delayed medical care.

It’s not you, Jillian.

Or you, Ethan.

I shared my tee-ball story and the floodgates opened. GenXers from across the globe shared their stories of breaking bones, having accidents, and dealing with mayhem—and the delayed medical responses that followed.

* * *

My aversion to seeking care didn’t end as I got older. The lesson I learned was that when you got hurt, you walk it off and keep on trucking.

A few years later when I was in high school, I tore up my back sliding into third base during a baseball game. The field was littered with little pebbles. My entire back turned into a bloody mess.

No big deal. I’m not even sure I told my parents. I remember showering, trying to clean out the grit and listening to little pebbles clink in the bathtub as they fell out of my back.

I couldn’t really clean the wound properly, which meant the injury couldn’t heal. For the next few days, my shirts stuck to the oozing puss that formed. Eventually the pain got so bad that I told my coach he needed to look at it.

Standing in the school parking lot, I pulled off my shirt.

“Hang on,” he said.

He went into his office, grabbed his cold spray and a straight razor, and came back out.

“This is going to hurt a little,” he said.

He sprayed my back, let it set, and proceeded to cut off the infected area which ran from my shoulder blades down to my lower back. Then, he taped some gauze to catch the run off, and I was back in business.

* * *

I wasn’t on that medical story thread—most of us weren’t there—to slag on our parents.

We were latchkey kids. We were the first generation primarily raised by two-income families or single-family households. The reality was our parents were navigating serious social fabric changes. They did the best they could.

Still, some of the stories are horrific. I found myself often shaking my head: “What in the hell was anybody thinking back then?

* * *

But, you know, I can’t say that I’m sorry my dad put that cast on me or that my coach cut off the infection on my back. I learned a lot about myself then—although maybe it would have been nice to deal with some of the emotional fallout from those incidents before I turned forty.

Like me, some GenXers credited their survival skills to growing up in that environment. And, they are actively passing along the good parts of that legacy.

But there’s some real trauma in those stories if my Twitter feed is to believed (and since it’s on the Internet, obviously it’s to be believed). And those traumas aren’t things we’ve discussed very often.

As I scrolled through the replies, I could sense the relief—and anger—that comes when you finally find people who hear you.

* * *

I’ve written about science and technology for most of my professional life—even when I was a professor and now as the editor of a university press. I believe in doctors. And I’ve spent the last few years working hard on my emotional health with an amazing EMDR therapist.

And yet—I still have that “walk it off” GenX mentality when it comes to medical care.

When I was about forty, a cut on my back got infected with MRSA, the nasty flesh-eating bacteria. A half-dollar sized lump grew on my back as my body fought the infection.

I waited for about a week, hoping my immune system would take care of it.

It didn’t.

I went to the doctor.

“Well, we’re going to have to cut that out of you so it doesn’t spread. The operation only takes about five minutes. The problem: we can’t numb the infected area. So either you’ll pay about five thousand dollars for the surgical procedure, or we can cut it out in the office without anesthesia.”

Screw that. I wasn’t dropping five thousand dollars for a five minute operation. I told the doctor to do the deed right there.

He handed me a wooden peg to bite down on—some serious Civil War shit—and the nurse stroked my legs while the doctor excised the lump from my back.

* * *

There’s not an ending to this post. It’s not a neat story that comes with a lesson to be learned. I’m distrustful of narratives that do that. (The most GenX thing I could write.)

But, like so many of my generation, I have tried to cultivate my neighborhood—whether in physical or digital spaces. And like any generation, GenXers have a shared history. Certainly not every thread intertwines, but there are commonalities.

This—the idea of self-reliance, safety, and doctors—sure feels like one of the common bonds.

And so—I wanted to share my stories, give you a place to share yours, and turn this little corner of the Internet into one of our GenX digital friend-family spaces.

So—what’s your story?

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  • Leah Adams January 20, 2019   Reply →

    I had bronchitis for two years as a kid. My mom believed my doctor every time he said I was faking it. As they both smoked in the exam room.

    • Brad King January 20, 2019   Reply →

      OMG—smoking in offices and doctor’s offices is a hard thing to explain to people today. Yikes.

  • Douglas Derda January 21, 2019   Reply →

    You brought back 2 memories now that I may have to write a post about, something I haven’t done in two years.
    1) I wiped out on my bike as a kid and even though my leg was bleeding profusely my dad was like “eh, it’s a scratch.”. The ER had a different opinion.
    2) I was in a car accident with a MACK Truck who was driving on the wrong side of the road (I have pics of the car too!). I was lucky with no major injuries. Parents were ticked I had to go to a specialist because I was having bad headaches and said to just take aspirin. MRI showed I had one heck of a concussion.

    Then there’s the time my dad blew up the backyard…

    • Brad King January 21, 2019   Reply →

      Those are two pretty horrible things. Do you find yourself still struggling to go to the doctor when you get hurt?

  • Kristin Kathleen January 22, 2019   Reply →

    Junior High-
    1) I broke my ankle on the trampoline in our backyard. (Oh those days of unfettered risk!) but stayed down there for another hour because it didn’t hurt “that” bad…and there was a cute neighborhood boy over and I didn’t want to leave. When I did come up, my mom said “well let’s see how you feel in the morning.” So we did and when I woke up with my ankle swollen to the size of a football, we still called the neighbor, an orthopedic surgeon first…who calmly suggested it would be a great idea to meet him at his office. Where I walked in on my own two feet and out in a giant cast on crutches.

    2- I told my mom for two weeks I wasn’t feeling well and she insisted my staying up with my cousins all day for several nights was my root cause and if “I’d just go to sleep…” I finally convinced her to take me to the doctor, who noted my pneumonia.

    Don’t get me wrong, my mother was anything but absent…but not real taken to allow for any hypochondriac tendencies. We were sort of the “wait it out, see what happens, let’s not jump to conclusions which could be costly” generation. And that carries over to when I fractured my femur in 2013, convinced myself it was a pulled muscle, ran on it for a month and only went to the doctor by force from a colleague. Spent the next 10 weeks on crutches and if I had let it go much longer probably would have required surgery to put back together.

  • Todd Snyder January 23, 2019   Reply →

    My twin bro body slammed during one of our epic wrestling matches and broke my shoulder. My mom’s solution to every ailment was to tell us to go have a good bowel movement. To say the least it did not solve my shoulder issue. A week later I was finally fitted with a brace at the hospital.

    • Brad King January 23, 2019   Reply →

      I won’t lie: the ‘take a crap’ medical response is a new one one me. But, I guess, it’s also important to keep yourself regular. (Also: my friends and I used to stage our own Wrestlemania’s before each broadcast! We had used old barrels as the ring markers—so we could go off the top rope!)

  • Laurie March 6, 2019   Reply →

    I got chicken pox at 23. Before I knew I randomly threw up in a parking lot. I had a weird “canker sore” in my mouth I rubbed margarita salt on it at the bar. I proceed to party my face off for my birthday. Drove an hour from my hometown back to my apartment. I took a shower and saw weird spots. So… I drove an hour home to show my mom. She took me to walk in care because she thought it was ringworm. They told me, buckle up, you have chicken pox. And like an idiot, I drove back to my apartment (hour). Later that afternoon the fever and started to feel really freaking weird. I called a friend and told her. She drove an hour to get me and an hour back to my parents’ house. I stayed there for about 2 weeks, even though my boss kept calling every day asking when I’d be in. I told her as soon as I stopped getting new lesions and they scabbed over. She was very impatient. Oh yeah, and I worked in research with immunocompromised subjects.

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